A new horizon in the southern and eastern Mediterranean

By Nibal Zgheib


The EBRD has rapidly become a major contributor to economic progress

The EBRD’s expansion into the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region started in May 2011 when the attention of the international community was firmly fixed on developments in the Arab world.

Under the presidency of France, the Group of 8 industrial countries announced their support in the form of the Deauville Partnership for countries witnessing dramatic political change.

A statement issued by the G8 at that time called for an “[...] extension to the geographic scope of the EBRD’s mandate, in order to support the transition in countries of the region which embrace multiparty democracy, pluralism and market economics.”

The Bank responded swiftly to this appeal by the international community and its shareholders to become part of the economic response to the challenges facing those countries. It was understood that the EBRD could apply its 20 years of experience in building the private sector, engaging in policy dialogue and supporting democracy and rule of law for the benefit of the Arab countries.

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EBRD shareholders agreed on 30 September 2011 to extend the Bank’s geographical mandate to the SEMED region. The initial focus was on the four countries of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia.

 

 

In the first phase of a three-stage approach, the Bank funnelled donor funding to the region in preparation for future EBRD investments.

In a second phase, EBRD Shareholders in May 2012 approved the creation of a €1 billion special fund for SEMED. This special fund allowed the Bank to start investing even before individual countries became full countries of operations, a status that qualifies for EBRD funding, which was achieved in phase three.

As investments began flowing in September 2012, the Bank started establishing representation in the four SEMED countries and appointed heads of offices.

From the start of its engagement, the EBRD has assumed an important role in a region that faces many pressing issues. The Bank focused on fostering the development of the private sector, the modernisation of the financial system, the establishment of reliable energy supplies, the development of sustainable sources of energy and the enhancement of the agribusiness value chain. Investments have also been channelled to infrastructure and municipal services.

Upgrading the local economies and strengthening their competitiveness is also key to addressing unemployment, one of the region’s biggest challenges, particularly among women, the young and educated people. Through its investments the Bank is supporting economic growth and helping to provide job opportunities, especially in small businesses. Bespoke training programmes as part of EBRD financing are aimed specifically at women and young people.

The Bank is also working with the authorities in all SEMED countries to develop policies that improve the business environment and the investment climate.

The EBRD launched its first project in the region by partnering with Investbank to help Jordanian companies engage more widely in international trade.

Many more projects followed and total investments had exceeded €3.5 billion by early 2016 in over 90 transactions. This includes a US$ 250 million financing framework for private sector renewable energy generation in the SEMED countries which still rely overwhelmingly on fossil fuel imports for their energy requirements.

Recently, in Tunisia, the Bank joined international efforts to clean up Lake Bizerte with a €20 million loan to support improvements to the local sewerage network.  In Egypt, a US$ 100 million equity investment to United Sugar Company of Egypt S.A.E. is helping to strengthen the agribusiness sector in the country.

Earlier this year the Bank joined international efforts to tackle the refugee crisis in the region caused by the civil war in Syria. With a financing package of €900 million, the Bank will be able to finance up to €500 million in new transactions, subject to mobilising an additional €400 million in grants. It is preparing projects in the private sector and in infrastructure to help the refugee hosting communities in Jordan and Turkey cope with the economic strains of large-scale migration.